Build a Jolly Gingerbread Ranch This Holiday Season
Instead of creating the usual gingerbread house, we've decided to take our cookie construction in a fresh new direction this year: the farm. Our gingerbread barn has all the features of a real farm (hayloft—check!), but swaps the usual candy trimmings for more wholesome accents like sunflower seeds, nuts, pretzels, and cereal. Plow ahead, and give kids free rein to nibble while they help you decorate the place.
The Sweet Details
The amount of gingerbread dough required for this project is too much for a standard mixer, so you'll need to make it in two batches. Since the shapes will take up a lot of refrigerator and oven space, you'll likely want to chill and bake it in batches, too. For the best results, use canned goods and clean T-pins or sewing pins to hold the barn together while the icing sets (T-pins work especially well for the roof pieces), and remove once it is completely dry. If you can't find mini ice cream cones for the trees, use a serrated knife to gently trim about an inch from the bottom of regular sugar cones.
* 4 sticks unsalted butter (1 pound), softened
* 2 cups packed light-brown sugar
* 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ground ginger
* 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 1 tablespoon ground cloves
* 1 tablespoon kosher salt (we use Diamond Crystal)
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 4 large eggs, room temperature
* 2 cups unsulfured molasses
* 12 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
* 1 pound confectioners' sugar, plus more as needed
* 5 tablespoons meringue powder
* Candy-coated sunflower seeds
* Red fruit-leather rolls, such as Joray
* Pretzel sticks and rods
* Sliced skin-on almonds
* Raw shelled pistachios, blanched and skinned
* Mini ice cream sugar cones
* Big-biscuit shredded-wheat cereal
* Raw pepitas
* Unsweetened shredded coconut
* Brown or black candy-coated Jordan almonds
Active Time: 3 hours| Total Time: 8 hours
Makes: One Gingerbread House
1. To Make the Gingerbread: Beat 2 sticks butter, 1 cup brown sugar, 4 teaspoons each ginger and cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons each cloves and salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder on medium-high speed until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add 2 eggs and 1 cup molasses; beat well. With mixer on low speed, slowly add 6 cups flour and beat until well combined. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll out each piece between lightly floured pieces of parchment 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet that's as flat (not warped) as possible; refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make a second dough. Divide, roll out, and refrigerate the same way (for a total of 8 sheets).
2. Print and cut out gingerbread-barn templates. Working with one sheet of dough at a time, and keeping the rest refrigerated, lay template shapes on dough and use a pastry wheel or sharp knife to cut out shapes: 1 floor panel, 2 side panels, 2 front/back panels, 2 upper and 2 lower roof panels, 1 barn door, and 1 wreath. As each piece is cut, return it to refrigerator to rechill.
3. Preheat oven to 350°. On front panel, cut out a 3-by-1-inch door at bottom center; cut out a 2 1/2-by- 1-inch long window toward the top; and score two 2-inch windows below, cutting all the way through the dough (but not removing it). Then cut out 4 small panes from each scored window. On each side panel, cut out three 1 1/2-inch windows, evenly spaced. Transfer pieces to flat parchment-lined baking sheets. Freeze 30 minutes, or refrigerate 1 hour.
4. Bake, banging pans on countertop once halfway through, until firm and beginning to brown around edges, 20 to 25 minutes (or 15 to 20, if baking from refrigerator). Immediately transfer with parchment to wire racks; let cool completely. If cookies become misshapen, trim edges with a serrated knife while still warm to match templates.
5. To Make the Royal Icing: Beat confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, and 5 to 6 tablespoons water on low speed until smooth, about 6 minutes. Transfer 2 tablespoons icing to a piping bag fitted with a very small round tip (such as Ateco #1); transfer remaining icing to a piping bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip (such as Ateco #802). Icing can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature overnight.
6. To Make the Décor: Pipe icing from bag with smallest tip to attach green sunflower seeds to baked wreath, leaving a small circle uncovered in center. Cut four 4 1/2-by-1-inch lengths of fruit leather. Fold 2 pieces into loops and secure to straight pieces; snip bottoms to create a decorative bow, if desired. Attach to bottom of wreath with royal icing. Place front panel on a surface. Pipe a "string of lights" along top edge, then attach candy-coated sunflower seeds to make "bulbs." Let harden completely.
7. Using icing from bag with 1/4-inch tip (here and for remainder of house), secure gingerbread door to the right of door opening; secure 2 pretzel sticks to door in an X and attach a pretzel rod above door. Attach hardened wreath between windows. Let front panel harden completely.
8. Place floor panel on a parchment- covered board (such as a cutting board), with shorter sides facing front and back. Pipe thick lines of icing along outside edges of floor (long sides) and adhere side walls; let harden completely. Pipe thick lines of icing over front and back edges of floor and up sides of walls; adhere front and back wall pieces to floor and side walls. Remove excess icing with the tip of a butter knife or a small offset spatula. Let harden completely, at least 2 hours.
9. Once walls are completely dry and solid to the touch, attach roof panels, one side at a time, using lines of icing. Secure roof panels with T-pins. Pipe a thick line of icing down roof peak to hold panels together. Let harden completely, at least 2 hours.
Overlapping layers of skin-on sliced almonds secured by lines of royal icing create a realistic roofline, with eaves decorated by sunflower-seed "string lights."
10. To shingle roof, pipe long horizontal lines of icing along panels. Starting at top, attach sliced almonds, shingling them slightly.
Pistachios give the ice-cream-cone pines flanking the Jordan almond-lined granola path their green foliage. The sliding barn door is fortified with pretzel rods and dusted with coconut snow.
11. To make trees, use icing to attach pistachios to ice cream cones, starting at bottoms of cones and working your way up.
Any jingle horse would love to giddyap here. The pretzel-rod fencing is stacked Lincoln Log–style and secured with royal icing. Shredded wheat stands in for hay; fruit leather makes a sweet saddle.
12. To make horse paddock, using a serrated knife, cut 2 pretzel rods in half. Stack cut rods with 6 whole pretzel rods, like a log cabin, using icing to secure where pretzels meet. Let harden completely. Crush some shredded wheat to create hay to fill paddock. Drape a rectangle of fruit leather over a toy horse to make a saddle. Use icing to attach a candy-coated sunflower seed to either side to create stirrups.
13. To make hay bales, stack a few shredded-wheat biscuits on top of one another, using icing to secure. Let harden completely. To make ladder, attach both ends of 5 pretzel sticks to the lengths of 2 whole pretzel rods with icing; let harden completely.
14. Pipe a long line of icing up edges of house. Shingle pepitas into icing; let harden completely. Pipe icing onto corners of windows and over pretzel rod above door; sprinkle with coconut to create "snow." Arrange 2 lines of Jordan almonds extending from door; fill with granola "gravel" to make a walkway. Sprinkle coconut snow all around barn. Arrange pistachio trees, hay bales, and ladder around barn and paddock.
Food styling by Susan Spungen; Prop styling by Marisa Sellitti